There was a time in Christianity when there was a clear divide between the professional clergy and the laity — the priests and the people. The prevailing paradigm was that the people gave their money in the offering on Sunday, and then the talented and God-ordained ministers did the work of preaching the Gospel. Of course, this idea was utterly unbiblical.
The New Testament makes it clear that we are all ministers before God:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
It is not the role of the professional clergy, priests, or ministers to exclusively do the work of the ministry — that is the duty and privilege of every believer. The leadership of the church is called to equip these believers to do God’s work on the earth:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Once a Christian has the revelation that they are God’s ministers there is often the assumption that this means they have three vocation choices in life; pastor, Bible school teacher, or missionary. Now God does call some people into these full time vocations, but He doesn’t require that of everyone. God gifts his people in different ways for different reasons. You can serve God mightily in the role of a pastor or missionary, but you can serve him just as well — or maybe even greater — in another vocation, if that is what He has called you to.
When we get to heaven and stand before God at the judgement seat, He will not say to us, “Well done, you were just as good a missionary as Praying Hyde” or “Well done, you were just as good of an evangelist as Billy Graham” or “You took care of the poor just like Mother Teresa.” No, when we stand before God, we will be judged by whether we obeyed His will for our lives, not someone else’s.
If God says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” it will be because you allowed Jesus to be Lord over your entire life, and you followed the leading of the Holy Spirit.
When we come to an understanding that we are called to minister for God in whatever job or role He assigns us in life, we can then examine the idea that there are basically three divisions of those roles. I call them pay-ers, pray-ers, and play-ers.
Let’s define what these rolls are.
The people that I call pay-ers are those who God gifts to make money to fund the work of the Kingdom. Those who are pray-ers are intercessors who have a burden for the work of the Kingdom. Finally, those who are play-ers are the ones who physically preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.
I deliberately put play-ers at the end so that we can first adjust our thinking regarding pay-ers and pray-ers.
I have a friend who owns a successful business. God has blessed this man and has given him a gifted mind in his technical field. He is also a very talented businessman. He understands the stock market. He knows how to raise capitol, and how to distribute his funds frugally to cover his costs while also carving out a reasonable amount for profit. The Lord has given him wisdom in hiring the right people, purchasing the right equipment, securing a modern facility, building relationships with customers, and meeting the needs of his clients.
Now this man has the intelligence to make a very successful pastor or Bible teacher. But God has called him to the business that he is in, and has blessed him with the ability to make money in that business. My friend has also had the revelation that God has blessed his business so that he can be a blessing to others — and particularly to Kingdom causes. Over the years this man and his wife have given above their tithes to their local church, and to ministries, missions, and ministers as the Holy Spirit has lead them. The Bible mentions this gifting in the book of Deuteronomy:
“And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant” (Deuteronomy 8:18).
God will bless leaders with knowledge and creativity so that they can make wealth to fund ministry endeavors. The writer of Proverbs declares, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge and discretion” (Proverbs 8:12). The New King James translation says that wisdom gives knowledge of witty inventions — ideas that can generate income to bless people, and to take the Gospel around the world!
If you are a businessman, a politician, or a leader of some kind and you have been feeling guilty because you don’t think you are effective for the Gospel in your business, be encouraged. God may have called you into your area of expertise for the express purpose of supporting ministry with your finances. Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t get involved in sharing your faith, taking a short-term missions trip, helping out at your local church, or serving the poor at a food pantry or shelter. You should be involved in all of these things as the Lord leads. But be at peace knowing that if God has called you to be a pay-er, you are a vital part of the army of God in the world today.
Another group of people are those who I call the pray-ers. These are the intercessors. These folks are often in the background, quietly lifting up prayers and petitions before the throne of God. Because the Bible tells us to pray privately, these folks don’t often shine as “leaders” in a church or ministry — but they shine like stars in the eyes of God.
It doesn’t matter what kind of ministry that you are a part of, prayer is the foundation upon which it will thrive. Prayer is like the steel structure that undergirds a large building. Without people of faith interceding for your ministry it will inevitably implode or explode in times of spiritual warfare.
The pray-ers recognize that God has called us to live in vital union with him, and that He responds to those who cry out to Him for His blessing, protection, direction, and wisdom. They know that apart from Him we can do no good thing. Every ministry, large or small, is utterly dependent on God every hour of every day. While there are those in that ministry who must be about the daily business and maintenance of that work, there are also those who are symbolically like Aaron and Hur who hold up the hands of Moses through intercession.
The pray-ers are the most overlooked and undervalued part of most ministries — and perhaps the most essential. It is the wise leader who assembles a group of people around him or her personally, and around their ministry, to lift prayers up before God on a daily, and an ongoing basis. Without these prayer warriors there will always be opportunities for the devil to come in and cause havoc in that church, mission, or outreach.
You may have felt bad in the past about your role in the church because you did not hold any position of prominence, or you were not able to give large financial gifts. Don’t let the enemy rob you of your joy, or of your great reward. Jesus spoke of the reward that you will receive from heaven:
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matthew 6:5-6).
You may be a homemaker, a diligent worker in some company, a secretary, an administrative assistant, a grandmother or grandfather, a retiree, or a student. You may feel like you don’t have much to contribute in terms of talent or money. Take heart! God may have called you to the greatest assignment of all — the ministry of intercession. Imagine the reward for the intercessor who prayed for John Wesley, or Charles Finney, or for you!
When we get to heaven, I think the pray-ers are going to be sitting in the best seats of all!
The final group is the play-ers — these are the vocational ministers who give their lives in service to the Lord. These are the Martin Burnhams, the Mother Teresas, the Charles Parhams, and the T.L. Osbornes of this world. But they are also the unknown and unnamed missionaries, Christian school teachers, home school parents, pastors, elders, apostles, Bible college professors and administrators, evangelists, prophets, para-church ministers, television evangelists, Internet evangelist, and more. The list goes on and on.
They are people who have counted the cost, picked up their cross, laid down their lives, and followed Christ no matter what is required of them.
They too are heroes. They are the full-time professionals. But their role is not just to perform to the delight of the paying public. That is not the biblical model. While there are times when the play-ers will do the work of the ministry, they should be equally concerned with perpetuating ministry through others. They must energetically train the saints to do the work of the ministry.
If only the play-ers did the work of the ministry — as it is in some churches and organizations — then multitudes of people would never have the opportunity to hear the Gospel message. Why? Because it is a mathematical impossibility. There are not enough people in the full-time ministry to reach the millions of lost people in the world — even with the advent of modern modes of communication like television, radio, and the Internet. It will take the entire Body of Christ, working in unity and following the direction of Jesus to see the Great Commission accomplished.
The play-ers need the support of the pay-ers and the pray-ers in order for their ministry to be effective. In fact, without the pay-ers and the pray-ers, the players would be severely limited, if not completely constricted, from doing what God has called them to do.
Now, I need to make one thing clear. In a sense every Christian is called to be a pay-er, a pray-er, and a play-er. We are all called to give of our tithes and offerings. God has called us all to commune with Him in times of prayer, and to war in the Spirit through intercession. And every one of us is called to share the good news of the Gospel with those that God brings into our lives.
But every believer should ask God, “What area should I give my full attention to — am I a pay-er, a pray-er, or a play-er?” When God answers that question, follow that course with all diligence, asking the Lord to lead you and to bless the work of your hands.
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24).